Top 5 Takeaways from the ANA’s Most Recent Report on Content Marketing

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On Tuesday the ANA released a report that was music to inPowered’s ears – according to data collected in 2019 (pre-COVID) by over 125 senior-level marketers across the US and Canada, they forecasted a “sunny” future for the content marketing sector, and saw a strengthening commitment to the practice expected to double within the next two years.  The 26-page study outlined the industry’s spending outlook, operational challenges, measurement and ROI challenges, as well as predictions for what’s to come; and we’re breaking down it down to the top five things marketers must take away from this report:

  1. There’s an Overall Positive Outlook on Content Marketing

Even though this survey was conducted prior to COVID-19, it shows that marketers across North America feel confident that content marketing will continue to increase in importance. Respondents had an overall positive view of the future of content marketing for the next 12 months: 31% said their view of the content marketing forecast is “clear skies,” 40% said “cloudy” (indicating is room for improvement to make content marketing work effectively), 25% described the horizon as “foggy,” while a small number said it was looking “rainy” or “stormy.” While a majority agreed that there is need for improvement with their content strategies, it’s great to see this optimistic outlook for the industry.

  1. Content Marketing Continues to Grow in Importance

When asked about their commitment to content marketing, 52% of those surveyed said they currently have a “strong commitment” to the practice, which is double the commitment from two years prior (26%). Commitment is expected to be even higher two years from now, when strong commitment is predicted to increase to 78% overall. Along with increasing commitment comes increased budgets. When asked about their content marketing budgets, respondents continued to express increasing commitments to budgets/content spend as well. Respondents reported an average increase in content marketing spending from two years ago of 73% and predicted continued growth of 42% within the next two years. The survey makes a note of being conducted prior to the COVID-19 pandemic; and how marketing budgets have decreased as a result, so it’s possible that content marketing budgets have also been reduced (albeit for the short-term).

  1. Content Marketing Efforts Are Shifting In-House

The report also found that a majority of respondents, 63%, are handling their content marketing efforts in-house versus outsourcing the work. In-house agencies — sometimes also called “content studios” — provide the cost efficiency, speed, and internal knowledge (and many times, stronger branding & creative direction). While this survey did not specifically ask about the increased use of in-house agencies/content studios, it’s definitely an area to be explored further within the industry.

  1. Marketers Have a Long Way to Go with their Documented Content Strategies

Only 35% of marketers surveyed have a clearly documented content strategy – 52% do not, and 13% are “unsure.” This is an obvious area for improvement: marketers can control their own destiny, and the ANA calls out the need for making this area of content marketing a priority.  Industries more likely to have a clearly documented content strategy included CPG, financial, insurance, technology, and travel; whereas those that did not included manufacturing and telecommunications sectors. Survey respondents who reportedly have a clearly documented content strategy were twice as likely to report a positive outlook on the future of content marketing (46% saying “Clear Skies”) as opposed to survey respondents who are operating without a strategy (only 23% of those believed they saw “Clear Skies” ahead). This further marks the need for marketers to merge all elements together into a cohesive content plan.

  1. Measurement & ROI Continues to Prove Challenging

It’s been consistently noted that content marketing has an ROI problem, and marketers struggle to accurately measure the ROI of their efforts. This survey solidified that sentiment within the industry, with 59% of respondents reporting a lack of actionable insights derived from current tracking methods. Additionally, 31% reported there was more data available than they could “make sense of”, which indicates additional challenges around what metrics should be used for the most impactful measurement. Specific frustrations surrounding ROI included “Proving the ROI,” “Attribution and Explaining ROI,” “Metrics across Owned and Paid Channels,” and “Proving Metrics that Cut Across Platforms and Publishers.” The ANA noted here that marketers are looking for innovative ways to solve this set of challenges, focusing on innovative investments to get smarter and help solve their challenges in measurement, purchase conversion, and efficiency.

While some of this data could certainly be debated given the impact of COVID-19, inPowered believes that the pandemic has actually been a catalyst forward for the content marketing industry. COVID-19 has shown the strengthening reliance on content marketing by brands when responding quickly to unforeseen global events and retool their messaging; and carried increasingly weighted importance within marketing plans and budget allocations for post-COVID recovery strategies. We’ll continue to take a deep dive into this report and the evolving content marketing industry, and would love to hear what other marketers think in the comments section below.

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